Art and the Shabbat

April 15, 2016

Every week, Jody Hirsh, the JCC's Judaic Education Director, provides a Judaic message that is featured at the top of the JCC's weekly email newsletter. Below is the Shabbat message for Friday, April 15, 2016.

Art and the Shabbat

This unusual Shabbat Scene was painted by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim (1800 – 1882). Oppenheim is considered “the first Jewish artist.”  Strictly speaking, this isn’t true – there were Jewish artists throughout the last two millennia – however he is the first famous Jewish artist, and the first Jewish artist who was accepted by the Non-Jewish German Society.  Oppenheim was classically trained, and built his reputation by painting portraits of the rich and powerful in Nineteenth Century German society. He was known as the “Painter of the Rothschild’s” since he was the Rothschild family official portraitist. He was a prime example of the Nineteenth Century German Enlightenment: an observant Jew who was full accepted as a German citizen and patriot. His most important contributions to our understanding of Jewish history were his paintings of Jewish life.

This particular painting, “The Return of the Jewish Volunteer from the Wars of Liberation to His Family Still Living According to Old Customs” was painted in 1833, and depicts the events of twenty years earlier: a wounded Jewish soldier returns home after fighting in the Napoleonic Wars. It is Shabbat, yet this soldier has traveled on Shabbat to return to his family. The insignia on his uniform is the Iron Cross of Germany – a decidedly Christian symbol, yet he wears it proudly as a soldier who served his country with pride. His observant family is proud of him and worried about his wounds, and glad he returned home relatively safely from the Wars. The picture fully depicts the contradictions the Enlightenment and of Jewish citizenship in the Non-Jewish world. The family is both Jewish and German . . . note the Mizrach on the rear wall (framed calligraphy with the word Mizrach, “East” pointing eastward toward Jerusalem) and a picture of an equestrian Emperor Frederick the Great on the wall to the left.  They are Germans. They are observant Jews. Although Oppenheim himself never served in the army, this picture represents the conflicts of being Jewish and an enlightened German citizen.

For more information about this painting click here.

Shabbat Shalom